Eating mostly fruits, vegetables and other plant foods, staying a healthy weight and exercising are among AICR’s recommendations shown to reduce the risk of developing cancer.
Now a new study suggests that healthy people who follow at least five of AICR’s Recommendations have a lower risk of dying from cancer by more than half compared to those who don’t follow any. And the lower risk was seen with meeting just one recommendation, getting lower for each additional recommendation followed.
The study was published in the February issue of Cancer Causes & Control.
“We found that meeting the AICR recommendations for body weight, diet, and physical activity is associated with lower cancer mortality,” says lead author Theresa Hastert, an epidemiologist at University of Michigan School of Public Health who conducted the study while at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington. “Although the benefits are greatest for people who meet the most recommendations, even meeting one or two can be protective.”
For the study, almost 58,000 people filled out questionnaires about their diet, weight, exercise habits and other lifestyle-related factors. Participants ranged from 50 to 76 years old and were all cancer-free at the start of the study.
Hastert and her colleagues focused on whether the participants met six of the AICR recommendations that apply to the general population. These recommendations include eating mostly whole grains, fruits, vegetables and other plant foods; staying a healthy weight; and being physically active. (Two other recommendations apply to special populations: new mothers and cancer survivors. Data was not available for two other recommendations: limiting salt intake and not using supplements for cancer protection.)
A person was categorized as meeting the recommendation if he/she met specific criteria. For example, people met the physical activity recommendation if they exercised at a moderate or vigorous level for 30 minutes or more at least five days a week, for at least seven of the past ten years. They met the recommendation for limiting red meat if they ate less than 18 ounces of red and or processed meat each week.
After almost 8 years, 1,595 people had died from cancer.
Those who followed at least 5 recommendations had a 61 percent lower risk of dying from cancer during the course of the study, compared to those who followed none. The more recommendations people met the lower their risk of death. Meeting just three of the recommendations linked to a 31 percent lower risk; meeting four linked to a 41 percent lower risk.
For each additional recommendation met, cancer mortality lowered by an average of 10 percent. This was after taking into account people’s age, smoking habits and other factors that affect cancer mortality.
“On average, for two people who have never been diagnosed with cancer and who are similar in terms of demographic and other characteristics, if one person met 5 to 6 recommendations their risk of dying of cancer in the next several years is 61 percent lower than the person who met no recommendations. That is pretty remarkable,” says Hastert.
The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements.
This study joins a series of others published in recent years that have looked at how AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention affect people’s health. These studies, not funded by AICR, suggest that following the recommendations can lengthen lives, help cancer survivors, and cut cancer risk. You can take a look at the other studies here.